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Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval cities in new development?

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  • Colin Leath
    This is a musing which seems like it would be best addressed by following up on the references mentioned in http://www.carfree.com/design/intro.html ... Will
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 1, 2004
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      This is a musing which seems like it would be best
      addressed by following up on the references mentioned
      in
      http://www.carfree.com/design/intro.html

      ---- but here it is anyways!:

      Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval
      cities in new development?

      This has been in the back of my mind for some time.

      It sounds like this is what Joel will be addressing at

      TCFCIV
      http://www.worldcarfree.net/conference/details.php#principles

      (but I won't see it unless they webcast/record it)

      I've seen the new urbanist attempts to engineer in
      randomness, like horton plaza-
      http://www.jerde.com/go/place/hortonplaza
      (and some of las vegas)

      but those have more of the feeling of caricatures.

      Now, with a boring apartment building with balconies,
      once individual residents move it and do different
      things with their balconies, a lot is added to the
      scene.

      What sort of framework could / would be put in place
      when you get a block of space in a brownfield near
      downtown seattle, say, to get a new area with the
      midieval quality of feeling? (carfree of course)

      It can't be as simple as requiring different
      architects for different lots and even different
      floors... as the the streets themselves must have
      significant variation and individuality.

      It seems to me that we can never create a new midieval
      town... it is almost like trying to evolve a
      grasshopper from an early predecessor...
      intentionally, and without the earlier conditions and
      the vast amounts of time.

      Of course we don't need the midieval feel to enjoy a
      well-designed carfree environment.

      But if we did get a huge block of land on which to
      build a carfree city the "problem" of having it feel
      like disneyland, las vegas, or a master-planned
      community seems significant.

      Since carfree-ing of areas is progessing gradually (at
      least in some places), this might not be a significant
      issue... and yet it is a significant issue if you've
      had the chance to experience anything like the Jerde
      projects http://jerde.com (http://paseoatsdsu.com is
      one) or just about any of the new urbanist
      developments I've seen (like
      http://www.villageofcheshire.com/).

      If Joel says to wait for the conference, I will... (or
      for his new design book
      http://www.carfree.com/design/intro.html ) I'll
      probably start asking if they have provisions for
      putting videos of the presentations on the web...

      I guess if zoning and government regulations are
      overcome, the streets could be designed with great
      variety (as in Joel's districts), difference of
      materials, difference in time, and likewise with
      everything else. It requires more time and less
      efficiency (more diversity), which suggests that is
      the correct approach.


      In fact, it may require entirely new (or different,
      rather) social structures for such a thing to happen.
      The only US location I've been to where I could
      imagine this happening (a new midieval feel) is
      Earthaven Ecovillage (http://earthaven.org). They
      don't quite have it there, due to auto use... but they
      could, and may...

      A key part of it is that many people are building
      their own houses in entirely different ways, likewise
      with the community buildings... and while there is a
      forestry coop building multiple buildings with a
      similar feel, their practices and skills have evolved
      in time.

      Interestingly, the midieval towns do have a sameness
      within them (I've been looking at Joel's pictures)...
      having to do with the material out of which they're
      constructed, and a common style. No doubt the age of
      the structures (along the lines of
      http://www.google.com/search?q=%22how+buildings+learn%22
      perhaps) and what has been done to them in time is
      part of the draw.

      I am making a basic mistake of architecture though: it
      is not the buildings, but the life between and within
      the buildings that should concern us, and be our
      standard...
      http://www.rudi.net/bookshelf/classics/lifebetweenbuildings/index.shtml

      Colin
      http://carfreeuniverse.org
    • J.H. Crawford
      Hi All. Colin posed a bunch of questions, but I don t have time to respond in any detail right now, being in the middle of writing the book in question and
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 2, 2004
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        Hi All.

        Colin posed a bunch of questions, but I don't have
        time to respond in any detail right now, being in
        the middle of writing the book in question and
        moving from the Netherlands to Portugal. I'll reply
        to a couple of key points, however.

        >Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval
        >cities in new development?

        Yes, if we want it.

        >I've seen the new urbanist attempts to engineer in
        >randomness, like horton plaza-
        >http://www.jerde.com/go/place/hortonplaza
        >(and some of las vegas)

        This is the key point. This is NOT randomness. These
        streets were laid out by the people who used them and
        thus by people with an intimate familiarity with the
        site. Changes were made over the centuries, during
        which, I believe, earlier mistakes were corrected.
        The key point is to allow the features of the site to
        inform the development. (In featureless sites, the
        need for a center around the transport halt will lead
        to radial/concentric streets, and allowing small groups
        of future users to arrange the area to their liking
        will introduce uniqueness and variety.)

        >Now, with a boring apartment building with balconies,
        >once individual residents move it and do different
        >things with their balconies, a lot is added to the
        >scene.

        Go visit a 1950s suburb and notice how much it's all
        changed since it was built; people have modified their
        spaces to suit their individual needs. The result is
        that these places are much more interesting than when
        they were built.

        >What sort of framework could / would be put in place
        >when you get a block of space in a brownfield near
        >downtown seattle, say, to get a new area with the
        >midieval quality of feeling? (carfree of course)

        If you're working with an existing gridiron, I imagine
        that you'll choose to retain it and its valuable
        infrastructure (unless this is old enough to require
        complete reconstruction, in which case you might fully
        assemble the parcel and lay out the streets anew.

        >It can't be as simple as requiring different
        >architects for different lots and even different
        >floors... as the the streets themselves must have
        >significant variation and individuality.

        Using Alexander's approach to housing, each family
        designs its own quarters. The trick is getting folks
        to work in a consistent enough style to make the
        area coherent. This would have to be by way of common
        agreement, a matter that has, until recently, simply
        taken care of itself. Even fairly wide variations in
        style aren't a problem as long as the character of the
        buildings is reasonably consistent (mainly, width of
        frontage and number of floors).

        >It seems to me that we can never create a new midieval
        >town... it is almost like trying to evolve a
        >grasshopper from an early predecessor...
        >intentionally, and without the earlier conditions and
        >the vast amounts of time.

        True, conditions are different, but the reference design
        really only alters the medieval model in the matter of
        providing more floor space per inhabitant and by the
        provision of a heavy transport network. The passengers
        all alight at one stop in the center, and the heavy
        freight is all delivered (at least initially) along a
        single route that passes close to the center. I think,
        in fact, that what led to the Renaissance changes that
        included wider streets and the application of grids is
        that the capacity of narrow streets in small medieval
        communities was not adequate to the transport needs.
        By using high-capacity rail systems that occupy very
        little space, we solve the medieval transport constraints
        in a way only Leonardo imagined.

        >I guess if zoning and government regulations are
        >overcome, the streets could be designed with great
        >variety (as in Joel's districts), difference of
        >materials, difference in time, and likewise with
        >everything else. It requires more time and less
        >efficiency (more diversity), which suggests that is
        >the correct approach.

        Variety is essential to making places interesting;
        at the same time, coherence makes them something we
        can relate to. I suspect that this relates to our
        inherent brain wiring, which likes to store and
        manipulate data in fractal (or near-fractal) form.

        >In fact, it may require entirely new (or different,
        >rather) social structures for such a thing to happen.

        Again, see Alexander on The Production of Houses.
        The arrangements are quite simple and not artificial.

        >Interestingly, the midieval towns do have a sameness
        >within them (I've been looking at Joel's pictures)...
        >having to do with the material out of which they're
        >constructed, and a common style. No doubt the age of
        >the structures (along the lines of
        >http://www.google.com/search?q=%22how+buildings+learn%22
        > perhaps) and what has been done to them in time is
        >part of the draw.

        The use of local materials governed by local climatic
        conditions tends to lead to a common style.

        >I am making a basic mistake of architecture though: it
        >is not the buildings, but the life between and within
        >the buildings that should concern us, ...

        This is largely but not entirely true. The design of
        individual buildings DOES matter, but it is the arrangement
        of public spaces is crucial.

        Hope this helps some. I'll try to participate in this
        discussion as time permits, as it helps me to develop
        the ideas I'm about to start working on for the next
        book.

        Regards,






        -- ### --

        J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
        mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
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